The United Touring Company (UTC) — a business in which Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and former labour minister Nicholas Goche are shareholders
A leading tour operator and travel agent during its heydays, UTC went belly-up a few months ago after failing to navigate the country’s harsh economic terrain, characterised by declining tourism and a tight liquidity crunch.
Among the litany of problems, UTC owed its workers nearly half a million dollars in outstanding salaries and terminal benefits. Other notable creditors include the National Social Security Authority (NSSA).
The workers are now hoping to salvage something out of the liquidation process.
Liquidation refers to the process by which a company (or part of a company) is brought to an end, and the assets and property of the firm are redistributed among its creditors.
It is also sometimes referred to as winding-up or dissolution, although dissolution technically refers to the last stage of liquidation.
It may either be compulsory or voluntary whereupon shareholders will file for the winding up of the business on their own having assessed that it can no longer be revived.
In the case of UTC, Cecil Madondo of Tudor House Consultants has been appointed to preside over the company’s liquidation.
Madondo is said to be in the process of reconciling claims by different creditors against the company, which used to be the torchbearer among tour operators in the country until it fell into indigenous hands.
The collapse of UTC has re-ignited debate about the efficacy of the indigenisation policy through which government is seeking to redress past historical imbalances by thrusting the majority blacks in the mainstream economy.
In the agriculture sector, where former white commercial farmers were chased away from their properties in 2000, vast tracks of land now lie fallow because the majority of the indigenous people, mostly ZANU-PF elite, who inherited them lack both the resources and knowledge to become productive on the farms.
In industry and commerce, several companies acquired by indigenous people have been run down, resulting in scores of employees losing their jobs, while the taxman has also lost out in taxes.
Among the companies run into the ground by the indigenous people are Express Motorways, Jaggars Wholesalers, Apex Corporation and Kondozi Farm etc.
UTC’s troubles started when it was acquired from its former white owners by a consortium linked to Kasukuwere in 2001.
In July 2011, UTC decided to retrench all the workers and pay them terminal benefits by October of the same year in a bid to streamline costs, especially the payroll.
This did not happen, leading to winding court battles after the workers initiated court proceedings to recover money owed to them by the company.
In 2014, some of the company’s former workers were granted an order by the High Court to attach property to recover about US$186 000 in terminal benefits.
This resulted in the attachment of property that included a fuel service station, a depot and a house in Victoria Falls, which were meant to go under the hammer.
More properties were to be attached elsewhere in Bulawayo, where there was a garage and some offices in order to recover US$400 000 owed to former workers.
An administrator of the defunct UTC, only identified as Seckam, said the company was put under liquidator a few months ago.
“We wanted to sell some properties, but we had challenges with buyers which is why workers haven’t been given their money. The company was put into liquidation and so the best person to speak to is the liquidator at Tudor House,” said Seckam.
Contacted for comment this week Madondo’s secretary said her boss was out of office.
“He (Madondo) is the one handling the issue and you can only talk to him when he comes back,” she said.
It is understood that there is growing disquiet among the former workers, who are growing impatient after some of the properties were sold but they have not been paid yet.
“They have on several occasions promised to pay us our money, but they keep reneging. We were stopped from attaching the property when they produced documents showing the company had been liquidated, but it’s not helping us at all,” said a workers’ representative, Danisa Tshuma from Victoria Falls.
Some of the attached properties include a depot along Pioneer Road, offices and houses on 292 and 297 Rumsee Road, 193 Sopers Arcade and 378 Square Cummings, all in Victoria Falls. The others are at George Silundika and 14th Avenue in Bulawayo.
Another workers’ representative, Davidson Mwariwanjepo, said meetings with the Master of High Court had been held and were now waiting for direction from the liquidator.
“There is nothing we can do now since the company was liquidated. We had meetings with the Master of High Court as creditors and they are waiting for a possibility of more claims coming in like NSSA (which presented its claims late) and the company is in the process of reconciling all claims,” he said.
UTC is not the only company owned by Kasukuwere to go under.
The politician, who doubles up as ZANU-PF’s national political commissar used to own a stake in Genesis Investment Bank, which collapsed in 2012.
Genesis voluntarily gave up its licence because its directors had since 2009 been trying to convince close to 20 local and foreign potential partners to recapitalise the bank without success.
Eventually, the board of directors of Genesis met and resolved to voluntarily surrender the institution’s banking licence in line with Section 14 (4) of the Banking Act [Chapter 24:20].